Longjing (Dragon Well) Tea Fields, and other tea fields further west. These are best visited during the harvest period, usually from the first week of March till after May Holiday, when everyone is out in the field picking tea and the tea that you can purchase is of the best quality (tea crops from later in the year have had their leaves damaged by the rain).
Dragon Well tea is made of tender tea shoots, not leaves like many other teas. They are very small, no larger than 2 cm. One Kilogram of tea can have over 80,000 shoots. The best Dragon Well Tea is picked very early in the spring. There is only a 6 week window to harvest them. The first two weeks of harvest are considered high grade, while the remaining four weeks are considered low grade. The rest of the year the plants are allowed to relax and absorb sunshine. That is one of the many reasons why Dragon Well tea is so precious. They can only be produced for 6 weeks a year. The best Dragon Well tea is picked by hand in a process that resembles a traditional Chinese dance. A good tea picker can harvest only 2 kilograms of fresh leaves in a 10 hour day.
Once the tea shoots are harvested, they must be roasted the same day. After picking the tea is "Withered". The tea is spread thinly to dry for 8 to ten hours. Doing this removes moisture and reduces any grassy,or bitter flavor. Once the tea is sufficiently dried, it is "Roasted". Roasting is done using bare hands to allow the roaster to feel his work. It is an extremely hot job and takes a novice many years to harden their hands so they do not feel the heat. Watching an experienced roaster dry the tea is like watching a Martial arts master. It takes a novice over 5 years to master the 10 hand movements required to dry the tea. A master roaster can only fry 1 kilogram of high grade Longjing tea each day. After roasting the freshly processed Dragon Well tea is ready to drink.
Cultivation and Classification of Longjing Green Tea: Types of Tea Produced for more than 1000 years in this area of China, Longjing tea possesses four qualities that set it above other teas: emerald green colour, aromatic flavour, overall appearance, and crisp and refreshing taste. Once favoured by emperors, the tea is produced in three main classes, the highest being the “Superior” grade whose supreme taste is also reflected in its supreme price: a small canister can retail for more than $50. Second grade tea is referred to as “Special” and the remaining lower-grade tea is lumped into a numbered category of 1 to 5. The harvest time for Longjing tea is a short six weeks, with the first two weeks producing the superior grade. Once picked, the leaves must be hand roasted the same day. A roaster uses his or her bare hands in order to feel both the heat and the dryness of the leaves. Once roasted, the leaves are ready for immediate consumption.
Many tea plantations can be found among the hills, each producing Longjing tea. Most plantations offer visitors an introduction to the history and practice of tea growing, sample cups of tea, and the inevitable sales pitch. Purchasing tea directly from the plantation is recommended to assure quality product. The master tea-packers will stuff more tea than believed possible into a chosen canister based on quantity and price. The tea will stay fresh and crisp for up to three years if it remains in a refrigerator, safe from humidity. The leaves used for one cup of Longjing tea can be reused throughout the course of the same day. It is not the first cup of tea, but the second that is said to be the most flavourful.
Tea Cultivar and Plucking season of Longjing Tea The best tea cultivar for longjing tea is cultivar No.43. The longjing tea produced of leaves from this cultivar gives distinguishing character: the dried tea leaves are flat,straight and sleek with sharp-tips and delicate green bud with yellowish edge. When brewed,it gives a long-lasting delicate fragrance with mellow taste. Besides,the sprouting occurs simultaneously and uniformly,producing bud and leaf even in color and size. This is key to making high grade tea with remarkable neat appearance. Furthermore,every year,Cultivar No. 43 is earlier than other cultivars to begin sprouting for 7-10 days. In China,the earlier the longjing tea on the market,the better the selling price. Drinking the earliest tea during spring is the culture which people are fond of. Therefore,this cultivar is highly appreciated by farmers. The longjing tea cultivar No.43 passes the assessment by chinese tea experts and is recognized as a fine breed.
During the early spring,one bud and one leaf or one bud with two leaves (which just starts to open up) is hand-plucked. The length of bud is 2.5 – 3.0 cm. The length of bud is an indication reflecting the degree of delicacy of tea leaves.
The plucking is carried out as early as possible to harvest young shoots. It is said that the best time to harvest longjing tea is before Qing Ming (清明),occurring on April 4 (leap years) or April 5 (other years) of the Gregorian calendar),the product is named as 明前茶 (Ming-qian Cha). Subsequently,tea harvested before Grain Rain (谷雨)named as 雨前茶 (Yu-qian Cha) is second in quality. During a day,even an old hand can only manage to harvest as much as 1.0 - 1.5kg of young shoots. In any event,0.5kg contains about 60,000 pieces of young shoots. In addition,the tea leaves must be carefully selected during plucking: 1) Pick the bud and leaf of the same size, in even and orderly form 2) Do not pluck together with the long stalk 3) Do not pluck bud/leaf in purple color 4) Do not pluck bud and leaf which is damaged by plant disease 5) Do not pluck the tiny leaf attached to bud.
After plucking, the leaves are transferred to a indoor cool place. During the sunny days,the tea leaves are spread to a thin layer (3 – 5 cm) and left for 6 – 12 hours without turning or mixing; but if the leaves are plucked after rain or contains much dew,the tea leaves are spread to a much thinner layer then lightly turned and mixed for 2 – 3 times. It must be carried out with much care and attention so as not to cause damage to the leaves (damaged leaves will turn red,affecting the quality of end product). During this period,the water content is vaporized from fresh leaves until it is reduced to about 70%. The spreading makes the leaves to emit a greenish grassy smell,resulting in reduction of bitterness and astringency, By increasing amino acid concentration it improves the briskness of liquor. In addition,it helps to prevent leaves becoming lump during frying.
Production Process of Longjing Tea
Withering Tea leaf after plucking is moved into well ventilated room where it is spread in a layer of 3-5cm for 6-12 hours to reduce moisture to 70%. It is a process aimed at reducing greenish aroma & bitterness and increasing relative percentage of amino acid.
Pan Frying - Inactivation of Enzyme Pan Frying Process of Longjing Tea During the first pan frying,the purpose of 殺青 is to inactivateoxidative enzyme such as polyphenol oxidase (PPO) with heat,as well as forming the preliminary shape of longjing. With high temperature,it takes a very short time to heat the tea leaves and inactivate oxidative enzyme. When the temperature reaches 80-100˚C,place about 100 g of tea leaves into the pan and fry by hand. At the start,the main hand-gesture is to grasp the leaves up to about 10 cm in height away from the pan and slowly sprinkle the leaves to vaporize the moisture from the leaves. After frying for 3 – 4 minutes,the leaf turns soft. By then,the hand-gesture is changed to put-over,press or holds down,shivering and fling or throws off. Progressively increase the pressure by hand. This step is critical to forming the preliminary shape of longjing. The leaves are straightened into narrow-shaped strips and flattened. The skillful tea master has to carefully manage the timing of action and pressure induced by hand: too much pressure,incorrect hand motion and if pressed too soon,tea leaves become dark in color; on the other hand,non-straightened and non-flattened tea leaves indicate that the hand pressure applied is insufficient and/or the pressing carried out is too late.
After frying for 12 – 15 minutes when the moisture content of leaves is reduced to 20-30%,remove the leaves from pan.
Cooling The fried leaves are spread out to 15 – 20 cm and cooled down for about 40 - 60 minutes. At this time,tea leaf re-absorbs moisture and softens (called 回潮Hui-chao).
After cooling,the softened leaves are winnowed to remove broken and light pieces of leaves and then hand-sorted to get rid of dull,burnt,yellow pieces,red colored leaves,stalk and any foreign materials. Subsequently,the sorted leaves are sifted to obtain the first batch of leaves that is retained on the top sifter,while the leaves that pass the sifter is collected and sifted again to obtain the second batch which is retained on sifter and third batch, i.e. leaves pass the sifter. These three different batches of leaves will proceed for second frying separately.
Second Pan Frying - Forming the shape and drying The purpose of second pan-frying is to form the shape and further remove moisture. Usually,about 4-5 batches of tea leaves from 1st heating are gathered together and proceed for second heating. The collected leaves are about 250g in total. The initial temperature of pan is about 60 – 80˚C,fry leaves until they are heated up and softened and down reveal (露茸毛 Lu-rong-mao),then increase the temperature to 80 – 90˚C and continue frying. When down drops and leaves are tightened up to flat and smooth strips,the temperature is reduced to 50˚C.
During frying,the pressure induced by hand is gradually increased. It involves the hand action of put-over, buckling,rubbing,press and push. The gist is that the leaves must always be in contact with the hands and the tea leaves should not be away from the pan. Toasting is continued until the down drops from the leaves and leaves become flat,smooth and sleek. When the leaves emit their own fragrance and could easily fracture with moisture content reduced to 5 – 6%,the frying is sufficient. It takes 25 minutes in total.
Infusion of Tea Good tea must be made with good water, so its flavor can be totally infused. The Dragon Well Tea and Hupao Spring is a perfect match. With less soluble minerals and higher concentration levels of organic nitride, Hupao water is favorable for producing the flavor and fragrance of Dragon Well Tea. The 212F boiled water is not suggested because the high temperature will break the nutrition and taste. Instead, boiled water at around 185F is appropriate. Usually people use glasses as the tea ware to infuse Dragon Well Tea because the beauty of the tea leaves rising and falling in the water can be enjoyed through the transparent glass. Like the newly-opened orchid, the tea leaves extend their waists gently and slowly. It is no doubt an inspirational experience.
Dragon Well Tea adds luster to West Lake and has become another reason for travelers to visit the lake. It is a heavenly unforgettable experience for visitors to take in the beautiful views around the lake while enjoying a cup of Dragon Well Tea.